CNMI MINIMUM WAGE INCREASE TO SKIP 2011

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U.S. Congress OKs respite from yearly increase

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Oct. 1, 2010) - Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan announced yesterday that both the U.S. Senate and House have voted in favor of an amendment to the minimum wage law that he submitted after consultation with the Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands and the Saipan Chamber of Commerce.

The amendment provides for the annual 50-cent increase in minimum wage every Sept. 30 to be skipped in 2011 and then resume in 2012. The bill now goes to the President for his signature.

Sablan has been working with HANMI and the Chamber since April when the Government Accountability Office issued a report expressing uncertainty about the economic impact of the annual 50 cent increases that began in 2007.

"With today's increase of 50 cents, bringing us to US$5.05 per hour here in the Northern Mariana Islands," Sablan said, "businesses that are primarily employing minimum wage workers have experienced a 66-percent increase in their labor costs in just three years. That is a very substantial change in the cost of doing business. Even GAO, with its highly skilled economic analysts, was reluctant to predict exactly what would happen if the minimum wage continued to go up at this fast pace.

"On the other hand, the minimum wage increases have been very beneficial to workers. GAO found that residents of the NMI earning minimum wage have been able to keep ahead of inflation over the last several years.

"The amendment we got through Congress today represents a reasonable compromise and a cautious policy. Workers will get their raise, which business has been expecting and has budgeted for.

"Businesses will get some breathing room next year.

"And GAO and other analysts, here and in Washington, will have more time to collect data and observe just how the economy is adjusting to the increased cost of labor."

HANMI president Nick Nishikawa and Chamber president Douglas Brennan wrote to Sablan in June expressing their support for the one-year break on behalf of their membership.

"We ask that you support a one-year moratorium on the annual 50-cent increase scheduled for calendar year 2011," they wrote, "and that the impact of the minimum wage rate increases in the Commonwealth be again studied and reported back to Congress by the General Accountability Office in 2012, prior to the resumption of the increases."

"It's a wise course of action," Sablan agreed. "We keep a close eye on the economic impact, using the experts at GAO as a resource.

"We make sure we don't do anything that would cost our economy jobs. But we also make sure that the people in those jobs are being paid fairly and are receiving a dignified wage for their work."

The minimum wage amendment, which also halts minimum wage increases in American Samoa, was amended to H.R. 3940 in the Senate on Tuesday. H.R. 3940 allows for federal funding of public education to consider Guam's political status and was authored by Guam Delegate Madeleine Z. Bordallo.

The territorial package faced numerous obstacles raised by Senate Republicans, but was eventually approved by unanimous consent in the closing hour of business.

On Wednesday the amended bill was transmitted to the House and again faced procedural barriers. The House was speeding toward passage of a must-pass spending bill to keep the federal government in operation after October 1 and the agenda was filled with legislation that members wanted action on before leaving for the campaign trail.

"We were very fortunate to have good working relationships with my Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, who is an influential member of the leadership and skilled at the procedure of the House, and with my Natural Resources Chairman Nick Rahall, who is also a practiced hand," said Sablan.

"Our territorial partners Chairwoman Bordallo and Chairman Faleomavaega are, also, very experienced and great to work with," he added. "Chairman Faleomavaega deserves great credit for his calls to Majority Leader Harry Reid and other key decision-makers.""There really is no substitute for experience when it comes to getting things done in Congress."

It was after midnight when the final roll call vote of the day was taken in the House, approving H.R. 3940. It passed 386 to 5. (PR)

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